Thursday, January 10, 2013

Re-Inaugurating an Un-President

All for the invisible leader! (Photos from the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias.)
Venezuela's supposed President Hugo Chavez missed his own re-re-reinauguration today. The trouble is, as he begins yet another presidential term, that he's lying in Havana, Cuba hospital bed, apparently near death from cancer. But don't you worry, Chavez is still president.

These things don't happen in a normal country, where the laws apply and the Constitution matters.

Ordinarily, Chavez can't keep quiet, but he hasn't been heard from for a month, since traveling
'Now, more than ever, with Hugo Chavez.'
to Havana for his fourth cancer surgery. Venezuela's Constitution says the president is to be sworn in on Jan. 10, but Chavez's yes-men and women in the National Assembly and on the Supreme Court used technicalities and loopholes to conclude that Chavez can continue being president even tho out of commission and outside the country, and that he can take the oath whenever he wants before the Supreme Court.

And, since the Chavez government has eliminated all checks and balances, they decide.

Even if this un-presidency doesn't violate the letter of the law, it sure does violate its spirit. The Venezuelan people have no more evidence than the word of a few top officials who've visited Havana that their president is even alive, much less that he'll someday recover. And, isn't a president supposed to be in his nation's capital, not on an island ruled by a dictatorship? The word 'president' comes from 'to preside', which is difficult to do from an overseas hospital bed.

But that's Venezuela, a land which Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magical realism could have created if it didn't already exist.

This travesty is yet more proof that Venezuela isn't ruled by a normal government of institutions, but by a personality cult. Venezuela's top officials seem very aware that their 'revolution's' main appeal lies not in any accomplishments, but in the charismatic personality of the comandante presidente, who's held power for about 14 years. Without him as figurehead, the public's loyalty would waver and the opposition might win any elections. Trials of the Chavez administration for corruption and human rights violations would likely follow. So, the Chavistas believe, it's better to hold out the possibility of Chavez's return, even if everybody knows it's a fantasy.

Behind the scenes, a power struggle's likely already going on amongst Venezuela's top officials in preparation for the inevitable end of this charade. Will Chavez's succesor be able to consolidate power and maintain at least a semblance of democracy? Will a desperate strongman emerge who'll rip away Venezuela's weak institutions and rule thru the military? Or, will the chavista leadership permit fair elections and hand power if the opposition wins?

Chavez lastyear, showing the effects of chemotherapy.
In any case, Chavez seems to have chosen a convenient time to bow out of the political scene for the sake of his legacy. During Chavez's three presidential terms, Venezuela's poverty rate has dropped, literacy has improved (tho much less than the government boasts) and they've done things like expand the capital's subway system.

But they've accomplished that thanks to high prices for oil, on which the economy increasingly depends, as well as huge deficit spending. A hard economic landing looms. The government will be forced to devalue the bolivar currency and reduce or remove destructive but popular subsidies such as the almost-free gasoline. That belt tightening could trigger violence similar to the 1989 Caracazo riots, which helped create Chavismo in the first place.

A sea of red for Chavez.

But if Chavez departs the scene before that, all of that pain will be blamed on his succesors. Chavez the legend will rest peacefully, probably alongside his idol Simon Bolivar in the gigantic mausoleum which Chavez built for El Libertador in the center of Caracas.

Once again, for all of Colombia's defects, the contrast in terms of rule of law couldn't be stronger. In 2010, Pres. Alvaro Uribe wanted to run for a third consecutive term. He was very much alive, healthy and popular. But the Constitutional Court nixed the idea as unconstitutional. Grudgingly, Uribe accepted the verdict, and is now a private citizen tweeting criticisms at the Santos administration.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Stuart Oswald said...

Only the good people of Venezuela will suffer thanks to this vile man. The way he has distorted the meaning of democracy with all the shameful human rights violations. He has single-handedly insulted the goodhearted people of the country to thieve and corrupt their morals for cheap short lasting gain. He has also become some kind of weird idol to far left Europeans and North Americas as some kind of democratically elected "living" Che Guevara, who believe some other like him would be a viable leader for modern and advanced economies. All chavez has done, is to impose an outdated and proven failure of system, to drag it's good people further back in history. Most of Latin America is catching up with the rest of the world whereas Venezuela has been crippled by this man and his ideals. He may have reduced the poverty rate by steeling and distributing other people's wealth (to his own voter base). Literacy is no good if all you have to read and understand is propaganda. I expect chavez to make a recovery and to return to power. Chevez ranted on at the UN about another when he himself has reduced his own country to a lake of Brimstone.

Miguel said...

For once, Stuart, we agree on something.


Stuart Oswald said...

For once there is solidarity among us. ;)